Summary: What does being “born of water” mean?


Is Baptisim Essential for Salvation?

A Sermon on John 3: 1-14

by Pastor Thorolod Marsaw

Newtonbrook Baptist Church

Someone has said, “He that is only born once will die twice, but he who is born twice will die only once.”

Does this statement sound strange to you? Well if it does, you are not alone.

Open your Bibles if you will to the book of John, Chapter 3 versus 1 to 14. In this passage of scripture, we are introduced to a man by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a seeker. He was seeking the truth about God and Jesus Christ. God in the Flesh Himself met with him and gave this inquisitive Pharisee a statement that perplexed him.

Jesus told Nicodemus: “You must be born again.” Now unfortunately none of us were there to see his reaction but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the word “huh?” was used in Nicodemus’ reply.

Indeed, there were a whole bunch of things that Jesus had publicly said that he didn’t understand and that’s way he came to Jesus. He wanted to find out who He was, why He had come and what it was about Him that made Him so special.

Deep down in his heart he was really attracted to the Lord, but he had a problem, he was afraid. Oh not of Jesus, but of his fellow Pharisees. Afraid of what they would think and say if Nicodemus was caught speaking with the Lord. His desire for illumination from the Light of the World though was too great though. So he basically snuck in to see Him, under cover of darkness.

Nicodemus was afraid. A lot was riding on his decision to visit Jesus. His reputation, standing and power were all on the line if he got caught. All this was playing through his head as he approached the Lord. He even pretended that he was making his inquiry for a number of others. In verse 2, we read: “We know.” “We know” what? “We know that thou art a teacher come from God,” and as I like to paraphrase it, “The other fellows and I have been watching you and we recognize that God is with you. I mean we, know this because no man can do these miracles that you’ve done unless God is with him.”

People, have you ever tried to talk with someone about spiritual things and found it really hard to get to the point? You sort of go around in circles, not quite knowing how to come to grips with the issue. Maybe you don’t even know what it is you should be saying.

Well I think that’s what was happening here and the Lord knowing what was on Nicodemus’ heart helped him out. He gave the answer to a question that Nicodemus hadn’t even formulated. He told him what he had to do to be saved, and go to heaven to be with the Lord. In the very simplest of terms that’s what the expression, “Kingdom of God” means.

Jesus said, “You must be born again…for apart from that it is impossible to enter into that Kingdom.”

Born again! Tell the average person that he must be born again and he thinks you mean that he must reform or mend his ways. That is, turn over a new leaf. It stirs up the idea of working on the outer man. But that’s not where the problem lies, the problem is within.

Suppose the mainspring of my watch were broken, what good would it do if I were to put in a new crystal and polish up the case until I could see my face in it? Why, not one iota! The seat of the trouble is inside the watch and so it is with the sinner. The new birth, then, is something more than reformation.

And, it’s more than becoming religious. It’s more than saying your prayers, reading your Bible and going to church each Sunday. It’s more than just having a good feeling after a church service. In fact you can do all those things and not be a real Christian, that is someone who is born again.

A born again believer is someone who has received a new life. And I am talking brand spanking new- not just one that’s been patched up.

Are you still confused? Let’s go all the way back to the 17th verse in Genesis chapter 2 . Here the Bible tells us about the Garden of Eden and of all the good things God had provided for man to enjoy and, we learn about the one thing in all creation that man was forbidden

“Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were not to eat, for the day they ate of that” God said, “thou shalt surely die.”

Now, we all know that they did eat of it, but the next day they were still walking around very much alive. Sort of. Yes they were alive physically but spiritually they were dead. We know that the latter is true because of the change in the nature of their relationship with God. They no longer had perfect communion with Him. They no longer walked with Him. And both Adam and Eve found talking with the Lord an uncomfortable experience. When they heard His voice, we are told, they actually hid. The spiritual condition of these two is best described in the first verse of the Book of Ephesians Chapter 2. By inviting sin their life, they entered into a state of being that was dead in trespasses and sin.

Had God taken both their spiritual life and their physical life at the very moment of their sin there would have been no opportunity for repentance, no chance for redemption. But, to make this possible, God permitted their physical life to continue for a time.

People, it is only through the exercise of choice that exists in the physical that we can claim the gift of the eternal.

Now, eventually Adam and Eve had children. And when they were born, they were born with the same nature as their parents. In Romans 5:12 Paul writes…“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.” That is, the disease of spiritual death has been passed on like an ongoing genetic disorder. Cain and Abel and every person- other than Jesus Christ -have and continue to be born spiritually dead.

That’s a truth that John confirms for us in Vs 6 when he writes, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” Vegetable begets vegetable, animal begets animal, sinner begets sinner.

This age-old fact is irrefutable. If you don’t agree that your offsprings are born with an inclination to sin you haven’t been very observant. Why I’ve seen infants so mad that they hold their breath until they turn blue. I’ve seen others cry so angrily that you’re glad they don’t have the strength to really make something of all their complaints. And if that isn’t enough, they pull hair, they bite, steal toys, lie on the floor and hammer their little fists into the carpet and all that with no prior instruction. I mean I’ve never seen a parent tutor their tots in tantrums (How’s that for alliteration?).

Now let’s just look at how Nicodemus responded to Christ’s declaration in verse 4.

First he says, “How can a man be born when he is old?” I think that’s the equivalent to our expression, “I’m too old to change.” Or, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.”

You see his first reaction was that Jesus was simply speaking about shaping up, or straightening out his act. As he looked into the Lord’s face, (wow! what a privilge that would be!) Nicodemus could see that he was missing the point. Born again? A man can’t enter again into his mother’s womb and be born again, What are you saying?

Beloved I’m glad that Nicodemus was so honest, at least about this point. You know sometimes we don’t understand things, but rather than admit it, we say nothing, and go away ignorant. We ought not to do this. Indeed, we have an obligation to look into every claim of Christ. We need to learn all we can. God knows when we are confused. You can’t hide your confusion from Him. Ask Him to provide you with an answer.

We should be quite thankful then, that Nicodemus was so forthright here, because what Jesus told him is so very important to all of us too. Let’s look at His response:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

“Born of water?” Boy, the use of the word “water” here has surely stirred up a pile of controversy amongst theologians. Those who are inclined to credit salvation to the works of man, seize upon it as affording proof of their doctrine of baptismal regeneration. That is, they believe this indicates that water baptism is a means to salvation. Get baptized and you’ll go to heaven.

But beloved this is just not true. If baptism were essential to salvation, it is more than a little difficult to understand why Christ Himself never baptized anyone (John 4:2)

If baptism were essential to salvation it is tough to explain why Paul, when asked point blank by the Philippian Jailer “What must I do to be saved,” he responded by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16: 30f.)

And it’s also impossible to grasp the significance of why the great Apostle would write to the Corinthians saying, “I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius” (I Corinthians 1:14).

And then what do we do with every passage in the Word of God which teaches that salvation is by grace alone and not of works, that it is a gift of God not the product of human effort, not at all. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

No, the word “water” here does not speak of baptismal regeneration. Some have instead suggested that it speaks of natural birth. That is, while an unborn baby is in the womb, he or she is encased in a sac of water. During pregnancy the child is literally swimming around. At birth, a woman’s waters break. So, to be born of water could reasonably be said to speak of physical birth.

Those who advocate this position point to verse 6 to support their argument:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You see there is a parallelism here.

However, I am convinced that that is not what is being stated here. To say that a man must be born physically before he can be born again is superfluous. No, Christ is responding to the question of how to be born again and He is saying there are two elements: the water and the Spirit.

So what does being “born of water” mean? Well, let’s see how John uses the word elsewhere in his Gospel. In John 4:14 Christ speaks to the woman at the well and says to her,

“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up inter everlasting life.

Was this literal water? Of course not. It is clearly symbolic. Now, turn to John 7:37f “…if any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Again, “water” here takes on the symbolic meaning for the “Word” of God- the exact figurative meaning in John 3:5. John 3:5 then, could read as being “born of the Word and of the Spirit.”

Do you need more evidence? No problem. How about Psalm 119:50 which states:

For thy word hath quickened me…made me alive.

Are you still in doubt? O.K. How about Romans 1:16 where Paul says:

I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, the Word, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

In, I Corinthians 4:15 Paul writes “I have begotten you through the Gospel.” And again we are told “of His own will begat He us with (what?) the word of truth.” (James 1:18). Peter declares (I Peter 1:23) “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”

The new birth then is by the Word of God and by the Spirit. It is the water of which John 3:5 speaks of.

My fellow believers, we have two parents, the Word and the Spirit. The Word is the revelation that opens the heart to receiving the Spirit. Beloved, facts lead to faith and faith is the pathway to life. Remember what Paul told the Romans in the 17th verse of the 10th Chapter? “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”

And then when the Spirit of God enters into the spirit of man, that which was dead in trespasses and sin is made alive again. (Ephesians 2:1)

John says the same thing in John 6:63.

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

The breath of God, the life of God, is in the words of God. And beloved here is the really good news, there is life in His word today.

Of a truth there is a transformation that can take place in the heart of man that will fit him for the Kingdom of God, but there’s more. For in the Word we have a lamp that lights our present path (Psalm 119:105) and a cleansing power that can create in us a pure heart (Ephesians 5:26). In other words, in the Bible we have a sufficient guide for faith and practice so that the Kingdom of God need not be simply the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but in a present reality enabling us to live the victorious life today.

Nicodemus asked, as I am sure many of you right now are asking, “How can these things be?”

Well, in answering, Jesus reminded him in verse 14 of an event that took place in early Jewish history. During their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, there was an occasion when a campsite of the Hebrews was inundated by poisonous serpents. Their venom was lethal and it burned like fire in the veins of its victims. People were dropping like flies and they begged God to do something to save them. And He did.

God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lifted it up on a pole. He said that everyone who would look to it would live. And guess what, it happened just as God promised. Those who looked lived! Why? Because they looked in faith.

Jesus goes on to reveal that as the serpent was lifted up, He too would be lifted up. He spoke of course of His crucifixion. He told Nicodemus that all who look to Him in belief that He can deliver them from the punishment of sin will have eternal life. Trusting in Christ Jesus is our deliverance from the venom of sin that permeates our lives and leads to death.

Trusting in the Lord Jesus. Taking Him at His Word. That’s the path to salvation. Looking unto Jesus. Just as looking in faith saved the physical lives of the Hebrews in the wilderness, so too will faith in the Lord Jesus Christ give us spiritual life today.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for Your quenching Word. Thank you for your gracious gift of restoring communion with You through the work of Your only begotten Son on the Cross. Thank you for letting us look to Him through faith and receive our new lives. Through Jesus, You have accepted us into Your family as adopted children. Through You alone we are now being transformed back into Your likeness. The circuit connecting us to You has been re-attached. Thank You.

Lord, in this same passage of scripture in the eighth verse, You spoke to Nicodemus about the way the Holy Spirit calls people to repentance. Lord, here and now someone is ready to receive this call. This may be the last call that he or she will receive. I plead with you to reach them and accept Your incredible gift of grace. I ask this in Jesus’ Blessed Name.

If you have prayed this prayer with me and have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I welcome you to the family of God.

Happy birthday! This is the first day that your spirit has become alive. A new journey awaits you as bit by bit the Lord will now transform you into His image!

Newtonbrook Baptist Church

North York, Ontario